January 4th, 2013, 01:02 PM
Thoughts on the Sony RX1
[NOTE: The essay below was originally posted to my blog (www.paulgiguere.com) thus the introduction is slanted towards a more general public than people in this forum.]
By now many of you have probably heard about the Sony RX1. The worlds first compact full-frame camera that offers stunning image quality and superior camera and lens craftsmanship. You may also have heard it's price, an eye-watering $2800. Add some premium accessories and extra batteries and you are looking at $3200 to $3400 or so.
After reading several early reviews of the camera (most notably Steve Huff's review http://www.stevehuffphoto.com), I decided to order one from B&H Photo and try it out. After all, I could always return it within 30 days (no questions asked which is what makes B&H a class act). A little background though. . .
A couple of years ago I was forced to sell my Canon 5D and a couple of L-class lens to pay for the removal of several trees around my house which my arborist called widow-makers. I then used my Ricoh GRD3 exclusively for all of my photography but I still felt the pull of a full-frame sensor camera and the kinds of images possible when using a great lens. Fast forward to December 1st, 2012 when the price on a Canon 5D MKII dropped below $1700 (due in no small part to the 5D MKIII and the 6D cameras either being available or on the horizon). I thought long and hard of getting the 5DMKII and a 35mm L lens. The pricing would have been similar (around $3300 with accessories). With the EVF and lens hood though, the price for the Sony goes for around $3300 or so. So, from a price standpoint a wash (no advantage either way).
I should also mention that I typically do not need lots of lens for my cameras. I typically only use 28mm or 35mm. A 50mm lens would be like a telephoto lens to me. In other words, I usually only have one or two lens at the most for my cameras (that allow for interchangeable lens) but I typically use 28mm or 35mm (no preference; either focal length feels just perfect to me).
I was ready to push the Order button on my cart for the Mark II and the 35mmL when my wife reminded me that unless I was doing studio work or "planned" photography where I needed the 5D, it always stayed home. In other words, I never used the 5D as a walk-around camera or a camera that I just grab when I was going out. It was just too heavy and bulky. Everywhere I went people turned away. Even people who would let me take a photo of them looked uneasy with such a big camera and lens pointing at them. About 99% of the time, I took the compact camera (my Ricoh GRD 3 and now 4 in this case) and the 5D stayed in it's bag unused unless I needed it for a very specific purpose. After reconsidering this, I decided that the RX1 would probably meet all of my needs and so I ordered one. Some observations having "played" with the camera for a few weeks:
- The camera truly is compact. Yes, the lens does stick out a bit but it is still much smaller than any DSLR any day.
- The RX1 body and lens are of very high quality. This is a very solid camera. I hate to use this comparison but it reminds me how a Leica M9 feels in my hands (solid, like it was carved out of a single metal block). Even the indicators and measures are carved into the body (not just painted). With the exception of the battery/memory card door (which feels a little flimsy given the rest of the camera), everything is just feels very well made.
- The image quality is amazing (in no small part to the great Zeiss 35mm lens and Sony's latest FF sensor). I don't have samples to post as I have just been eye-balling indoors (I'm still recovering from hip surgery and thus have not been able to make decent photos) but you can find samples everywhere. And yes, the bokeh of this lens is truly amazing (and satisfying) when opened wide at f2.0.
- The focus, while it is not the fastest by any means, is actually quite good (even in low light). I've made test shots in all kinds of lighting conditions and focus (or auto white balance for that matter) aren't a problem at all for me.
- The camera is very customizable (every button and dial for the most part can be programmed the way you like). Yes, Sony included some features I will never use like face recognition and various scene modes but these are easily ignored. Once I had the buttons programmed the way I like them, I found the RX1 intuitive to use.
- Manual focus works very well (focus peaking, focus enlargement, etc.). I also find it easy to zone focus manually and just leave the lens focused out to where I want it (something that I have come to appreciate with the Ricoh cameras and the snap shot feature). There is a problem though, the RX1 does not remember your manual focus setting between power-ups (unless I'm missing something here). This means either setting the camera to not go to sleep for longer periods of time or just refocusing (using the focusing wheel on the lens). Since refocusing is very easy and fast (and I don't want to drain my batteries down too quickly) this is the method I use when appropriate for the situation. Otherwise, autofocus fits my needs nicely.
- As I mentioned above, a 35mm focal length is ideal and what I use 99% of time anyway so having the ability to change a lens is not a requirement for me.
My list of issues or problems is very small:
- Yes, the price is very high for this camera but you are getting a quality camera for the price. If you can afford this camera and it meets your needs, then the price is not so bad. The problem is that there are many photographers who would love this camera for whom the price puts the camera out of reach (the problem with any high-end item; think Leica. . . I would love a Leica Monochrom with a 35mm f2.0 lens but it will never happen in this lifetime). I've read comments from people saying the camera should have been priced at $1500 or $1600. That's just ridiculous. Considering the construction and quality, the lens alone would go for about $1200 if it were interchangeable. I'm thinking that a better price would have been around $2200 (and it might go down to that once the camera has been on the market for a few months and the early adopters have made their purchase).
- I also think the accessories are way overpriced. The EVF costs $450 (which is not that outrageous but is at the top of the cost spectrum). The lens hood ($180) should have been included with the camera as well as an extra battery. The optical viewfinder is priced around $600 (you can get a Voightlander for $210 which is every bit as good). There is also a thumb-grip that sits in the hot shoe that seems quite handy (particularly if you use a viewfinder) but at $250, not handy enough for me. Also, the thumb-grip blocks the contacts on the hot shoe so you can't use the EVF or a flash unit when using the thumb-grip (stupid).
- The batteries used in the RX1 are the same exact batteries used in the Sony RX100 (the super compact that Sony released this past summer). This means that the batteries need to be changed more often (especially if you chimp your photos a lot or access the menus all of the time). No big deal (a bigger battery would have meant a bigger camera) but I feel I need at least two spare batteries for this camera to keep me going for a day of making photos. I'm sure the full-frame sensor sucks more power out of the batteries than a smaller sensor would. Perhaps with the EVF (no LCD) the power usage will drop and I will get more photos out of a battery (we shall see).
- As I said, the battery/memory card door seems a bit flimsy. I will just need to be careful swapping out batteries and cards.
Anyway, issues aside, I decided that this is the right/perfect camera for me. It is a camera that I can easily see myself grabbing when I'm going out the door or I'm working on a documentary photo project. This could also be good street photography camera if it weren't for the lack or manual focus memory between power-ups (I'll stick with my Ricoh GRD4 when I'm specifically doing street photography anyway). I did order the lens hood (a habit, I always use a lens hood) and the electronic viewfinder. I'm not particularly a fan of EVF's but I want to give this one a try. The RX1 feels like a camera that makes me want to hold it up to me eye to compose so if the EVF doesn't feel right to me, then I'll get the Voightlander (and maybe the thumb-grip; in for a penny in for a pound as they say).
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Last edited by Paul Giguere; January 4th, 2013 at 01:28 PM.
January 4th, 2013, 01:18 PM
Thank you Paul. Your experience and perspective are very informative. This seems like a great camera, but I'm still in a holding pattern. I'm curious to see what else 2013 brings.
I know people gripe about the price, but I think you have a point that it essentially compares to a FF DSLR with a very good 35mm lens, and that's not cheap. And to cram all of that into a tiny body! Plus, it's the first of its kind. Sometimes we take things for granted.
I'll look forward to seeing some of your work with the RX1. Are you converting to B&W?
Last edited by Andrewteee; January 4th, 2013 at 01:24 PM.
January 4th, 2013, 01:27 PM
My main worry with this camera is that it will feel like the RX100 in use. Uninvolved and cold. This is one piece of kit I just cannot bring myself to buy blind.
Thanks for your insight Paul. Wishing you a quick recovery.
"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd" ~ Voltaire
January 4th, 2013, 01:37 PM
There has not been a Sony camera that I have not tried and returned. They do some things well, but I'd agree with your uninvolved and cold sentiment. My experience has been with two NEX cameras and the RX100 (which I disliked intensely). More gadgets than cameras, but certainly highly capable. I did, however, rent an A77 for my sister-in-law's wedding and found it to be a great camera. Obviously, it was returned too
Originally Posted by Boid
At any rate, I'll be very curious to see Paul's work with the RX1.
January 4th, 2013, 01:40 PM
HI Andrew - Yes, I'm converting to black and white but I'm shooting in RAW (the RX1 RAW files are supported in the latest version of Lightroom) so I will also have the color files to look at (who knows, maybe I'll do more color work).
Originally Posted by Andrewteee
Thanks for the well wishes.
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January 4th, 2013, 01:45 PM
I did use the RX100 and I know what you mean. Nice camera and all but it didn't give me that feeling I get when I pick-up my GRD4 (for example). Hard to explain, more like a feeling that the camera has just become a part of you or something.
Originally Posted by Boid
I do have to say that the RX1 does have that feel for me, or maybe that is the pain meds talking ;-). I find it very comfortable to hold and use (it is heavy-ish but not that much). Every time I pick it up, it just feels good to hold and use. As I mentioned in the essay, I do want to put it to my eye (thus my desire for an EVF or OVF).
One thing I will mention is that I use a neck strap with this camera. It seems just a bit too heavy for a wrist strap for me. Dropping it with a wrist strap will probably result in a saved camera and a dislocated wrist. I'll have to experiment to see what feels best for holding and managing the camera.
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January 4th, 2013, 02:20 PM
Originally Posted by Paul Giguere
I don't own the RX1, but I did play with one for some time at the Sony Space in New York a month or so ago. It's a totally different experience from the RX100. It feels like a camera from the 1960's or 70's. The aperture ring around the lens is worth the price of admission alone.
Panasonic G5 and GX1; Lumix 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6, Lumix 45-150mm f/4-5.6, Lumix 100-300mm f/4-5.6, Lumix 14mm f/2.5, Lumix 20mm f/1.7
Olympus E-PM2; Zuiko 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6, 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R, Zuiko 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6, Zuiko 40-150 f/4.0-5.6 R, Zuiko 15mm body-cap lens, Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
Pentax Q; 01 prime, 02 and 06 zooms
January 4th, 2013, 02:59 PM
First, good luck on a quick and full recovery.
In terms of the camera, I'm interested in your comment on zone focussing. I too tried the RX100 and disliked it possibly as much as Andrew. One of the things I disliked was the hassle associate with zone focus. One issue was the lack of manual focus distance memory so you'd have to reset the focus distance any time you turned the camera off and on or any time you switched to auto-focus and then came back to manual focus. You indicate the RX1 has the same issue. But the even bigger problem for me was the lack of any sort of distance scale to set for a given "zone". The only way to focus the cam was to use focus peaking to focus on a point at your estimated distance (with the aperture wide open to get the focus as precise as possible, then stop back down to the right aperture for adequate DOF) and leave it there as long as you're shooting. I found this approach totally unworkable.
So, is there any sort of distance scale on the RX1? Failing that, is the focus ring fixed or is it a free turning "by wire" setup. If the former, it would be easy enough to mark the focus ring for a few key distances and set them quickly and easily. But if the latter, it sounds just as bad as the RX100 in that regard.
Even if this was a non issue for me, I don't think I'd have much interest in this camera, but with these concerns, I've had absolutely zero interest. But I know we do some of the same types of shooting and had a similarly high regard for the handling of the Ricoh cams, soil quite interested in your take on this.
January 4th, 2013, 03:22 PM
Originally Posted by Ray
Unfortunately, the distance scale only appears in the LCD and even then, it is not very precise nor is it in exact measurements. I would think that this is something that could be fixed in a firmware upgrade but Sony has yet to do it with the RX100 so I'm not too optimistic with the RX1 either. I manually focus using the focus enlargement and focus peaking methods or I use the method you describe (pre-focus on an object at the distance I want to work at). Also, the focus wheel is not mechanically linked so it is focus-by-wire. I should say it (and the aperture ring for that matter which is also not mechanically linked) work very well and are smooth and easy to use. The aperture ring also clicks quite nicely like an aperture ring should.
Truth be told, I don't see myself using the RX1 for street photography per se (not in way the I use my GRD4 for example) so the autofocus will work just fine for me 95% of the time. I'm using the RX1 for other types of photography for which the RX1's shortcomings really aren't going to affect me all that much. Basically, I think I have found a camera for each of the photographic spaces that I work in (or want to work in) rather than having a few cameras that are really redundant for the tasks at hand. Everyone's mileage will vary with this camera depending on what they want to use it for and/or which camera it is suppose to replace, etc.
January 4th, 2013, 04:35 PM
Thanks Paul. Good to hear there's even SOME sort of distance scale, even if not much of one - would be easier to fix than the RX100 where there's not even a hint of the thing. I don't mind them on the LCD, that's the way many modern cameras do it (Fuji, Panasonic, Ricoh, etc) but its got to be precise enough to actually have some confidence in. And its definitely nicer on the lens - the Olympus 12mm and new 17mm, with their snap manual focus rings, are sort of the best of all possible worlds for this, better even than Ricoh's snap focus system for my way of working. I wouldn't see the RX1 primarily as a street camera, but an awful lot of my shooting will be non-street but then needing to transition into street mode pretty quickly when I see an opportunity arise. So I wouldn't see myself buying a camera, particularly at this level/price, that I wouldn't be comfortable using on the street. I might have kept the RX100 if I could have found an even remotely acceptable work around but couldn't. Too bad, that had/has the potential to be a great little street camera and for people who like using auto-focus, probably is. I just never liked the thing on several levels.
Originally Posted by Paul Giguere
But I fundamentally don't feel any pull toward full frame. I'm not that much of a narrow DOF kind of guy and, to the extent I am, I have other combinations that work more than well enough.
Nonetheless, I love seeing folks pushing the envelope and Sony surely is here. I hope the camera works well for you. I'll be interested in how your thinking evolves with more time spent with it.
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